Love and scandal are the best sweeteners of tea. —Henry Fielding

31 July 2007


I have been having dreams where I forget to do things. Big things, like paying expensive checks at restaurants or taking care of my grandfather who has Alzheimer's disease or making hotel reservations when I travel. It's like I've left something behind or haven't remembered to take care of something very important in my life. What am I forgetting?

Or maybe this is all about regret. I suppose that's more likely. I must feel like I'm missing something, but I'm not dealing with it.

In other news, the conference was really great. I met lots of cool grad students who are doing exciting work, and a couple of very interesting junior scholars. Plus I met David Ian Rabey courtesy of my advisor. She was the chair of a panel on dramatist Howard Barker, so I went to that panel, and then my advisor invited me to go out with the panel to chat. So my conference roomie, my advisor and I went out for drinks with the two grad students on the panel and David Ian Rabey. We talked about Sarah Kane and David Rudkin and Howard Barker and all kinds of other stuff. Rabey is going to help with my thesis, too. Or so he said. It was all kind of unbelievable.

I also met a very cute grad student from Virginia Commonwealth University who teaches voice. Serendipity, I guess. I've been thinking about voice again a lot. Those who knew me in college will remember that voice was my main passion in undergrad. I even went to Canada's National Voice Intensive in 2002, an event which changed my life. Of course, here at FSU, I haven't had much time to do any voice work (or directing for that matter). But lately I have returned to the practice of yoga (something I also used to do religiously in undergrad) and so I have been thinking about my voice and my body a lot more.

So while I was in New Orleans, I ran in to (purely coincidentally) Christine Menzies, my voice teacher at CSU Pomona (actually, my first theatre teacher ever), a woman who I was completely devoted to. I also bumped into Gerry Trentham, who was one of my movement instructors at the Voice Intensive. I've been thinking about the voice and the body so much, and then I met these old teachers and new grad students of voice. In addition, my research interests seem to be bending toward the effects of the body in performance: the importance, representation and fear of the queer body in performance spaces. So it all seems to be coming back together.

Oh yeah, and I'm an idiot and I said that my old castmate Brian Robert Burns was at NYU, when of course he is at the Yale School of Drama. (Sometimes those schools are the same in my head.) I must have been on crack when I typed that.

30 July 2007

Everything I Need to Know I Learned from Theatre

I am copying this from the blog of an old colleague of mine, Brian Robert Burns, because I think it's fun. Everything I Need to Know I Learned from Theatre:
You MUST commit.
Hold your character.
Turn off your cell phone.
Dont give away the ending.
Know your history.
Create relationships.
Constructively criticize.
Because you don't like it, that doesn't make it bad.
Respect people's choices.
If someone makes a different choice than you would, that doesn't make them wrong.
Be on time.
Know what you want, where you are, what time of day it is and why you're saying what you're saying.
Don't pull focus.
Believe in your projects.
You don't always have to speak.
Absence does not mean death--presence does not insinuate life.
There is always someone listening.
Move with purpose.
If things go wrong, improvise.
Don't limit yourself.
In order to see someone completely, you have to show them all of yourself.
Feel everything.
Release your tensions; and judgment is just another form of tension.
Be prepared.
Let the moment take you.
Feel it out unless you have specific direction.
Think about what you are doing.
Sometimes you kiss people you don't like.
Talent isn't everything.
You will not succeed at every attempt.
Sometimes, it just hits so hard.
Just keep going. Most times they can't tell unless its really obvious.
Sometimes, it feels so wrong.
If it works, keep it.
Constantly develop your character.
You don't always know what you're getting yourself into.
A good counterpart can cover for you if you flub.
Don't manipulate your audience.
If you can't make it, call.
If you're not comfortable, let them know.
There is nothing more important than what's happening right now.
Energy up.
Shake it off.
Fuck critics.
Work against stereotypes.
Learn to take direction well.
You will not always get what you earn, and vice versa.
Appreciate honesty.
Things can get awkward.
No matter how hard you've worked, someone will hate it.
Don't rely on your bag of tricks.
Do your best and let go of the outcome.
Very few will take you seriously.
Your mom is your number one fan.
Nice, huh? Brian is in the MFA acting program at Yale in New Haven, CT. (I'm back from New Orleans, by the way. Update soon.)

25 July 2007


I am off to the annual conference for the Association for Theatre in Higher Education (ATHE) until Sunday, y'all. So there will be a small hiatus in posts. The conference is in New Orleans.

I will not be presenting or participating in any panels or any of that craziness. But I will be boozing socializing and schmoozing networking with other theatre people who work for universities. And I plan on asking questions and finding some new ideas.

Speaking of new ideas. I just started reading a (feminist) book called Bodies That Matter by Judith Butler. It's one of those it-takes-an-hour-to-read-ten-pages books. This shit is very, very dense. I have to read it out loud just to make sure it makes sense in my head. It's all about the materiality of bodies and how bodies and gender are constructed through discursive practices and systems of language. I believe all of it, too. I just don't know I believe it until she says it, and then I'm quite sure that that is exactly what I believe. It's quite an experience.

24 July 2007

Homosexuality in Renaissance England

My playwright completism led me to Mark Ravenhill's play Mother Clap's Molly House. (At this point, I will almost definitely have a chapter on Ravenhill in my thesis.) And just as I finished Mother Clap's Molly House I decided to pick up Alan Bray's historiographic piece Homosexuality in Renaissance England.

It's so good. And so helpful in understanding attitudes toward homosexuality in Elizabethan and Jacobean England and how vastly these ideas changed in the later seventeenth century during the Restoration. Check out this description:
When the Earl of Castlehaven was tried in 1631 for rape and sodomy the Attorney General, Sir Robert Heath, warned that his crimes were: 'of that pestiferous and pestilential nature that if they be not punished will draw from Heaven heavy judgements upon this kingdom.' By the end of the trial he is no longer talking of these judgements of God merely as a possibility; they were already there. "By these abominations the land is defiled; and therefore the Lord doth visit this land for the iniquity thereof. // That God may remove and take away from us His plagues, let this wicked man be taken away from amongst us."
This reminds me of two things simultaneously. First, I am reminded of both Oedipus and Christ, sacrificial figures on whom the iniquity of a city/the world is placed and who need to be removed from the world for the sake of the preservation of that world. I am also reminded of Jerry Falwell and his statement about 11 September 2001 when he said "I really believe that the pagans and the abortionists and the feminists and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People for the American Way, all of them who try to secularize America... I point the thing in their face and say you helped this happen."

23 July 2007

You Can't Stop the Beat

Adam Shankman's new film version of Marc Shaiman's 2002 musical Hairspray starts by quoting Robert Wise's West Side Story. The opening shot, coming out of the clouds (a nod to The Sound of Music?) is an arial view of Baltimore, the city where Hairspray is set. The opening number, which is called "Good Morning Baltimore" also contains a cameo by John Waters himself and a clear nod to yet another famous movie musical: William Wyler's Funny Girl.

The camp doesn't really let up in this film, and I didn't much mind. Hairspray is ridiculous, silly nonsense. It's fun and cute and has a good heart. It doesn't push the envelope at all, but it boasts some sweet performances and at it's best it had me grinning broadly.

John Travolta is miscast if you ask me. Watching him in a dress was a little like watching a wrecking ball hit a house. He's just looks so, well, awkward in this film. Queen Latifah (in some kind of weird twist) rather phones in her performance. You know I love the Queen and I feel like she usually tears through films and steals scenes like crazy, but in Hairspray she's seriously de-clawed. I liked everyone else in the movie: James Marsden is gorgeous and steely, Christopher Walken is his usual unusual self. Elijah Kelley is superb as Seaweed (that boy can siiing). And I loved Nikki Blonsky, the new Tracy Turnblad.
One question, though: Who is this Zac Efron person? Am I supposed to recognize him? IMDb tells me this is his second feature and that he's done a lot of television. He's strange looking.

Also, I heard Adam Shankman being interviewed on Fresh Air and he sounds really amazing. He started dancing late (like eighteen) and then he auditioned for all of the top dance programs in the country and got into all of them including Juilliard! He started dancing for Paula Abdul and then choreographing and has been working choreographing for movies for about ten years. This guy has had a heck of a career!

21 July 2007

Ma Nuit Chez Maud

I guess I don't know anything about Éric Rohmer and his Six Moral Tales series. Rohmer also has a series of films that have to do with the seasons, right? Do other people know about this and I'm just out of the loop?

After I watched Bertolucci's Il Conformista a week or two ago, I thought I would try to catch another movie with the actor Jean-Louis Trintignant. So when I looked for one, I found Ma Nuit Chez Maud (My Night at Maud's). Now, for years in my head I had equated My Night at Maud's with Last Year at Marienbad. I don't know why, but they were the same movie in my head and had been for a long time. (Does anyone else do this? Some people are the exact same person in my head and some movies and books, too. Like Martin Lawrence and Eddie Murphy. I know what they both look like, but I am always getting the two of them confused. I feel the same way about Red Buttons and Burgess Meredith. They might as well be the same exact person. Is it just me?)

That was a digression, geez. Anyway, I finally saw My Night at Maud's and it's kind of wonderful. It's a movie about talk and how our relationships are built on what we say to one another: the lies we tell and the images we project. Rohmer has crafted the film, too, so that nothing on screen feels alive—or, rather, the audience is completely distanced from the character—until they actually begin to talk to one another. Trintignant is great and I loved his friend in the movie, Antoine Vitez (he's much more my type :-), but the one to love in My Night at Maud's is Maud herself: Françoise Fabian. She's an alluring, beautiful vision: impossible not to dislike even a little (not that you'd want to.) She's mysterious and beguiling and beautiful. The movie is interesting on its own merits, but with Fabian as the star, the movie got under my skin and I began to feel as conflicted as the main character.

I don't know what the other movies in Éric Rohmer's series are about, but I'm going to add them to my queue.

(P.S. I'm on page two hundred of Deathly Hallows and I needed a break. I love Harry. Love Love Love. And Ron, too. Ron is my new favorite.)

20 July 2007

The Lookout

Scott Frank's film The Lookout is a disability narrative. It's also a heist movie. There is, of course, no shortage of either of these genres in cinema. But The Lookout is made intriguing and important by the performance that is the film's centerpiece: an exciting turn from Joseph Gordon-Levitt.
The film follows a young man as he copes with a debilitating head injury. Chris can't seem to be able to put things in their correct sequences. And he keeps forgetting things. He is constantly locking his keys in his car and he is forced to write down anything that he wants to be sure to remember in a little notebook he carries with him. Chris used to be a hockey star until his car accident, and now he cleans floors and bathrooms at a small-town bank in Kansas and tries to get by. The plot of the film begins when an old schoolmate comes back into Chris's life and they plan to rob the bank where Chris works. I don't want to spoil any more of the plot because The Lookout is worth seeing. It's a slow-moving (at least at first) character study, but that's just what makes the film so compelling.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt gives yet another near-brilliant performance in The Lookout. I thought he was great in Mysterious Skin (though that movie has other problems) and I absolutely loved him in last year's Brick. With The Lookout, Gordon-Levitt is constantly surprising. I found myself studying his face for what this character would do next. The fleeting memories and terror in Chris's eyes as he re-sequences things he can't quite remember are beautiful acting moments and have the power to be wonderfully moving at times.
The film isn't what I would call predictable, but unfortunately, most of the other characters are stock types and director Frank doesn't give enough screentime to the other actors for them to distinguish themselves. The film costars Jeff Daniels, Matthew Goode and Bruce McGill, a group of actors I admire, but none of them really has time to make much of an impression. But it doesn't matter, because The Lookout's main attraction is just so good. I'm calling the movie a character study, because you shouldn't expect a heist movie or an action movie when you sit down, but the character study is worth it.

19 July 2007

A Few Small Things

1. This Florida heat/humidity drains me. I come home and I want to sleep. I didn't sleep today though: I have far too many things to do to justify a nap.

2. I am completely obsessed with this singer Kate Walsh and her album Tim's House. I've been listening to it on a loop all day.

3. I had a thought about health insurance this evening. I was thinking of that black couple in Britain who are leaving the hospital with their baby in Sicko. Moore is asking them how much they had to pay and they are kind of chuckling about it. I think one of the reasons we can't don't yet have national healthcare in this country is that many, many people don't want everyone to have healthcare. They believe that some people don't deserve to have equality of medical care. I know I usually avoid the word equality. I have said before that I think equality is a uniquely American value and that I think equality is a red herring. My reasons for this opinion about equality are myriad, but I digress. I think that the majority of voters in this country believes that national healthcare would reward people who do not deserve to be rewarded. Medical problems and illness are equated with moral lapses in this country and this is an ideology that is constantly being reinforced. Disability narratives often work this way. The disabled person has something wrong in his/her heart and when he/she figures that out, he/she is now truly on the road to physical recovery as well. (This is, of course, ideological nonsense.)
Deep down, I think many people believe that people who get sick deserve it; that they've brought it on themselves. We all know that people feel this way about AIDS. But not just sexually transmitted diseases. I think people think this about nearly everything: cancer, freak accidents, anxiety, mental disorders, ad infinitum.

4. My friend Marcos was out to visit me the last couple of days and I had a great time with him. He taught me how to mix the perfect lemon drop and the perfect margarita.

5. I am off to ATHE—the conference for the Association for Theatre in Higher Education—in New Orleans next week. I was planning on attending the LGBT Focus Group's pre-conference, but—and I am completely baffled by this—though I am almost positive that there will be such a pre-conference, I can find absolutely no information about it on any website I visit. You'd think the gays would be better with technology. Ah well, I will scope it out when I am there.

6. In the month of August, I will be participating in the monthly Supporting Actress Smackdown over at StinkyLulu's blog. I am excited. It should be fun!

Alright, I have to teach in the morning. Time for bed.

18 July 2007

After the Wedding

I saw Susanne Bier's film After the Wedding (Efter Brylluppet) two months ago and I loved it, but for some reason, I didn't post anything about this intriguing melodrama from Denmark. So since my friend Karen recently saw the picture, I figured we could have a discussion about the movie and then I would post our conversation as my review of the film:

Beware of Spoilers
Karen: Wow – not at all what I expected. We just finished this and here’s my immediate impression. This is a men’s story. It’s about the way they mess up even when they are trying to do right and love the people they’re hurting. Jacob – he thought Helene would come back and so he let her slip away. He hurts the Indian boy by not keeping his promise to be there for the birthday. Jørgen – what a control freak. It doesn’t occur to him that his wife and daughter might want to share in the decisions he’s making for them after he’s gone. He tears Jacob from the life he’s created – I raised your daughter, raise my sons. The women (and children) are there, and they are loved by these men, but it’s about the men. And they’re good men who are trying to do right. Except the asshole son-in-law. Who cheats during the first week of marriage? Please. What was that about? I felt this men theme right when the film first started and Jacob was in India. He was talking to that kid and hugged him and I started thinking about how it’s different for men being around kids than it is for women. Trippy camera close-ups of eyes. I gotta go sleep.
Me: Hm. This is a very Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick point of view. I wasn't thinking about maleness so much when I was watching it. It is a really smart movie, though, I think. Jacob has sort-of adopted this boy in India, and then he finds that his place is really in Denmark with his family, but he thinks the boy will want to leave India and go live with him. But no. And I feel like Susanne Bier is on top of that sentiment. Because the West (capital W) is not necessarily better than the "East" (whatever that means). Right?
Sure, Jørgen is making decisions behind his wife's back and that's wrong, of course. But I was so struck by Rolf Lassgård's performance. He's so scared and so human and so sure that what he's decided is right. He's wrong, maybe, but he's trying so hard and he's so fucking terrified. It's an amazing, honest performance and I was incredibly moved. The movie is really a long-form melodrama, something like a Lars von Trier film, I guess. But I found it difficult and interesting and the performances were wonderful.
So I understand your notions of males exchanging females as so much capital, but for me (call me a misogynist if you need to) the film is about male notions of legacy and caretaking and how they fail and work (sometimes) and are inadequate. The men in the film come up short.
Karen: I know I tend to see things through the feminist point of view, but… I thought the “there’s people to help right at home” theme was a unifying thread rather than the main message. The performances were all wonderful and I cried – a lot. And that is the men thing – they want to fix things. To take care of everyone and fix it and make everyone happy and provide for, etc., etc. And I’m not talking about misogyny. I’m talking about men who adore their women and children anddogs and whatever.
Also I think it was the totally right thing for Jacob to do, leaving the boy in his own environment and staying with his family in Denmark, however painful it was. The boy would have been an alien his entire life. And that comment about “I thought you hated those people”– cutting. From the mouths of babes. Jacob thinking that the boy will want to go with him is another unifying thread – he thought Helene would come back to India to be with him. Rolf Lassgård was fabulous, fabulous. Did you understand what I’m trying to say about male legacy and caretaking? I’m not saying it is misogynist. It’s done out of love in this situation. But it’s such a stereotypic male response to problem solving. And in my (feminist) opinion, done with blinders on, in total disregard to what the recipients may want or need. For example, the daughter telling her Dad she needed to know he was dying. He: I didn’t want you to look at me and see a dead man and be sad before you had to. She: How about letting me spend what precious little time we have left together. And his reaction to his wife’s grief when she confronted him after the fishing trip was totally self-centered. And I understand it was his fear. Again, men afraid of expressing their emotions.
Or maybe it’s just two different points of view and I’m imposing my value judgments on it! But I’m telling you, I started getting this message very early in this film. It was shouting to me, not something I mused about and came up with later.
Me: I am a feminist. I totally agree with you. And I think what you're describing as noticing in the film is what we should be terming "misogyny." Male notions of caretaking that disregard female knowledges and input are definitionally misogynistic. I'm not trying to make the film into a feminist film either. I think you were wise to the film more than I was, to be honest. I took the whole film from Jacob's point of view (of course) and so I didn't notice quite so much what you've pointed out. I read Jørgen's behavior as significant and interesting but not as a statement about men generally or a description of typically masculine behavior. I wonder if Bier is as good as you're giving her credit for being. (I hope so.) Have you seen her film Brothers? I think that had a similar exploration of homosocial bonds with the woman in an ancillary position to the male relationships.
I think I'm understanding what you're saying about maleness and notions of caretaking and legacy. For me, all of those things are misogynist ideals: the propagation of male (homosocial) culture, notions of family purity, paternal responsibility, etc.
That scene at the end with the boy is incredible, because of course, the boy is right. As though bringing the boy, whom Jacob obviously loves, to the West is going to solve everything. Of course Jacob wants the boy to come with him, but what makes the film so smart, I think, is that Bier knows that the West isn't the solution. It has its own brand of problems and the way of living in the supposedly advanced West isn't any better necessarily than the way the boy lives at home in India.
Karen: Exactly! We’re on the same page. I do want to see some more of her films. I remember looking them up at one point, but I don’t remember if I put any in my queue.
In Woman in the Dunes there is a feminist interpretation to the film that occurred to me as I was watching it, but I rejected it in favor of larger issues. Then I was watching the essay that comes on the disc and they mentioned it. So I figured I’m not the only rabid feminist out there!
Thanks, Karen! I had fun. If this is fun for readers, I will recruit you to do more of these when we both have time. Or if anyone out there wants to have discussions of movies we're both watching, I am game. Comment on this entry or send me an email.

14 July 2007


I liked William A. Wellman's Battleground a lot. It's a World War II movie about the Battle of the Bulge and it is filled with action and fraternity and friendship. Of course it's from 1949, so it has its moments of pro-war propaganda, and promotion of both religion and the military in general. But these moments don't really invade the narrative structure of the film and the story of Battleground is incredibly effective. it's a great movie. It's shot in really sharp black and white, with one of the smartest scripts I've seen in a war movie. Take this extended exchange from the second act. Let me set it up. Van Johnson and crew are patrolling the forest in Bostogne, but the Germans have access to their passwords somehow and they have guys who can speak English with an American accent and infiltrate the ranks. So on patrol, Van Johnson is very suspicious. Our guys are John Hodiak and Ricardo Montalban and they come upon a jeep with a major and two other guys with guns:
Van Johnson: What's the password?
Major: Texas. (Then he whispers to his men:) Keep 'em covered they may be Germans.
Van: Any lions in these woods major?
Major: I didn't hear the countersign.
Van: Leaguer. Texas Leaguer.
Major: Which road'll take us to Third Bat headquarters?
Van: Straight ahead.
Major: (To his driver) Get going.
Van: Just a minute. Just what is a Texas leaguer, major?
Major: How's that?
Van: I said 'what's a Texas leaguer'?
Major: It's some kind of baseball term.
Van: What kind?
Driver: A safe hit over the head of the infielder—
John: Nobody asked you. How did the Dodgers make out this year?
Major: Hey, who's your commanding officer?
John: Whoever he is he knows how the Dodgers made out.
Van: Let's see your dog tags.

Major: What?
John: Come on, we're not taking any chances.
(At this point Van starts to speak German to them and try to trick them into speaking German back.)
Van: Spreken ze Deutsche?
Major: What is this?
Van: Was ist dein name?
Major: What kind of nonsense—
Van: Schnell!! Schnell!! Name! Name! Spreken ze
(The guys in the car start to freak out and aim their guns. And now the dialogue moves at rapid speed between the guys.)
Major: Drop those rifles.
Driver: You. Who's Betty Grable going with?

Ricardo: Cesar Romero.
Driver: Shut up. Who's the Dragon Lady?
John: She's in Terry and the Pirates.
Driver: What's a hotrod?
Van: A hopped-up jalopy.
Driver: Hello Joe whaddya know?
Van: Just got back from a vaudeville show! (Beat) I guess they're okay!
Major: Thank you sergeant.
Van: PFC, major. Praying for civilian. That's why I believe in being careful. May I suggest, sir, that you study up on baseball?
Major: I guess I'd better. And by the way, you might tell your buddy that Cesar Romero is out. She's married to Harry James.
Did I mention how well shot this Wellman film is? It's an American genre-film and it looks like a well-made art film. I enjoyed the Hell out of it.

12 July 2007

News from Florida (We Crazy Here!)

Allen denies sex allegations
By John McCarthy

TITUSVILLE -- Bob Allen has no intention of resigning his state House seat and is "absolutely" not guilty of soliciting for prostitution, the 48-year-old Merritt Island resident told FLORIDA TODAY Thursday afternoon.

Police arrested Allen Wednesday afternoon at a Titusville park bathroom after he allegedly offered to perform oral sex on an undercover officer and to pay the officer $20 for the opportunity. He faces one charge of solicitation, a second-degree misdemeanor, and posted $500 bond later Wednesday and was released from the Brevard County jail.

"I'm absolutely not guilty, and I'm going to put on a vigorous defense to prove that," he told the newspaper.

He said police accounts of the incident are wrong -- "That is not what happened." -- but that he cannot offer details as to what did happen because of the unfolding legal process.

1. Let me draw your attention to the fact that the gender of the undercover officer has discreetly been left unvoiced. This story was repeated today on our local NPR station (WFSU) and the gender of the officer was again unstated. They did say "perform oral sex on an undercover officer" from which, I suppose, we are all supposed to draw our own conclusions.
2. State Representative Allen seems to have no explanation for cruising in a public park bathroom.
3. He's married and has one kid.
4.Twenty dollars? That's it!?!?
5. If you ask me, I don't really have any problem with a couple of guys messing around in a park bathroom. It's a true shame that the Titusville police go around arresting people who do this. But it always feels kind of good when another crazy right-wing white man gets caught doing something he publicly condemns, hoist with his own petard, if you will.
6. If we all could just be less afraid of sexual difference...

Two from J-pan

I'm just becoming acquainted with Yasujirō Ozu. I recently rented Late Spring, which is probably his most famous movie. It's a romantic comedy. Very cute, but incredibly smart. It's about a woman who is a little older than normal marrying age (late spring, get it?) who lives with her widowed father and takes care of him. In order to get her to marry, the father pretends he is going to remarry. This is an incredibly beautiful, lyrical movie about two people who love each other very, very much but have to part. I fell in love with it immediately. The lead actress in the film, Setsuko Hara is beguiling and beautiful, and I fell in love with her as well. Her smile will make you melt, I promise. Ozu is well known to American audiences, so it's kind of embarassing that it has taken me so long to see one of his films. I should never have waited. The next one is one its way.

I also caught Isao Takahata's 1988 anime film Grave of the Fireflies, which is about two young orphans whose parents are killed during the bombings on Tokyo in World War II. The two go to live with their monster of an aunt for a while, but finally shove off on their own. The film begins with the death of the boy, so I guess it isn't giving too much away to say that this is a sad movie that does not end well. The thing is, saying that the movie is sad doesn't do Grave of the Fireflies justice at all. It's easily the saddest animated film I've ever seen. I was a mess. The portrait of devastation in Japan is incredibly moving and this story of a brother and sister trying to survive in the wake of war knows how to pull on its audience's heartstrings. Takahata knows what he's doing, too. He is influenced by the Japanese masters and his work reflects classic Japanese cinema. He even composes one of his shots to look exactly like a famous shot in Kon Ichikawa's Fires on the Plain.

11 July 2007


So while I was getting my hair cut yesterday, my hairdresser (who is a member of the transgender community) and I began talking about that film Transamerica, which I, as you might recall, completely hated. She hates it too, come to find out, and we had an impassioned discussion of how insensitive and ignorant the film is.

All of this because she is putting on a Transgender film festival in Tallahassee. She asked me if I had any suggestions for films and I suggested Different for Girls, which she hadn't heard of and Hedwig and the Angry Inch, which she thought everyone must have heard of. Then I couldn't think of any more transgender movies... only plays. I recommended I Am My Own Wife to her, because I think it's sensational.

Any thoughts? I seriously can't think of any more trans movies. , I know how trans-phobic you are, so you don't have to help.

Oh yeah, and here is the short, short haircut she gave me:

If you look closely you can just barely make out my ass. :-)

Duet du Cinema Française

Today: no movie. Instead another three episodes of Planet Earth, another fifty moments where I register complete disbelief at what I'm watching. This show is amazing. Today's episodes: "Shallow Seas", "Jungles" and "Great Plains."

Olivier Dahan's La Vie en Rose, a biopic of Edith Piaf, is an early contender for a Best Actress Oscar nomination next January. People are raving about Marion Cotillard's performance. I quite liked Cotillard as Piaf. Her physical transformation is astounding and her portrayal is rough around the edges, difficult, glamorous and very complex. The film, however, is a mess of formal devices. Dahan has decided to tell Piaf's life story without a narrative. This serves a couple of functions. It refuses the standard biopic narrative structure where a down and out performer makes it big, is brought low again and then rises back to the top in triumph. We've seen a hundred films that work in exactly this way and Dahan's narrative construction (which is to string events in Piaf's life together in what seems like a very haphazard manner) subverts this standard construction of the biopic. Consequently the audience is not allowed to credit Piaf's rise to the top to any one person, nor are we allowed to blame her early death on any one of her afflictions. The problem with all of this is that I never knew who many of the characters in the movie actually were because I wasn't introduced to them in the standard way. Pascal Greggory is in the movie and I still have no idea what his relationship with Piaf is in the film. Dahan's narrative structure also never allowed me to emotionally identify with Piaf.
I am sure this was his aim: unconventional storytelling, unconventional woman, avoid standard narrative tropes. But it all just served to confuse me. The movie jumps back and forth in time with such frequency thatI started to get really frustrated. I think, too, that I would have just allowed the change in times to wash over me and just go with the flow except that before some of the scenes, the date and location is shown onscreen. This tells me that it is important that I know both when and where I am. So I try to keep track as I'm watching the movie. Dahan seems to want it both ways. He wants me to care when and where I am while I watch, but he also wants me to think that time is unimportant in this phantasmagoria of scenes from Piaf's life. After a while it started to drive me crazy. I wanted to connect with Edith Piaf, but Dahan just wouldn't let me.

The other day I also watched François Truffaut's Baisers Volés (Stolen Kisses), the second in the series of Antoine Doinel films. I loved Baisers Volés. It doesn't pack the emotional wallop of The 400 Blows (the first in the series), but it is incredibly romantic. Antoine Doinel can't seem to hold down a job. He keeps taking on different careers and each seems funnier than the next. He just gets himself into difficult situation after difficult situation. I've never liked Jean-Pierre Léaud more than I liked him in this film. He is adorable and idiotic. This is a very funny comedy with all kinds of ridiculous farcical business and silly activity. I was charmed.

09 July 2007

The Ancient Greeks

I'm so hungry right now, but I have to do yoga and if I eat I won't be able to do it. This entry has no point, let me make that clear ahead of time.

Charles, one of the other Theatre Studies people lectured our Intro kids today about ancient Greek theatre (mostly the Birds and the Lysistrata) and I kept thinking the word Thesmiphoriazusae the whole time. Even now that I'm back home I keep thinking "Thesmiphoriazusae."

It's like Ellen DeGeneres's "By Mennen." It won't go away. By Mennen.


08 July 2007

Close to the Knives

I'm reading David Román's book Acts of Intervention, which is basically a history book about AIDS plays, or more technically performances that were spawned out of AIDS activism and AIDS culture. Román is thorough and his study is exhaustive (or seems to be) but the book is a little, um, depressing. I have, of course, been consuming a steady diet of plays that deal with homosexuality, AIDS and violence, so perhaps I am feeling a little tired of all of this pain.

At any rate, my deal with myself is that I'll read a good twenty or thirty pages of theoretical writing and then I'll read something more "fun". By fun, of course, I really just mean a different kind of work. So when I take books to the coffee shop, I take a theory book and then at least one or two books of plays, so I have something fun to read in addition to the theory.

Today, I finished a chapter in the Román and then picked up David Wojnarowicz's Close to the Knives: a Memoir of Disintegration. I read about this book in Robert McRuer's book about what he calls the "Queer Renaissance" and I was intrigued. But Close to the Knives is great fun! It's sexy and rough and violent. And it's composed like poetry, in short spurts. Some of the sequences are miniscule, lasting the length of a hook-up in an abandoned attic, but they gleam with life. I read about sixty pages in one sitting and then I came home and read another twenty-five.

One of the great things about the book (and why it's still technically "work" for me to read it) is its marriage of violence and desire. For instance:
The paper stated that only people who are heterosexual or married or who have families can expect these constitutional rights. There were no editorials. Nothing. Just flat cold type in the morning paper informing of this. In most areas of the u.s.a. it is possible to murder a man and when one is brought to trial one has only to say that the victim was a queer and that he tried to touch you and the courts will set you free. When I read the newspaper article I felt something stirring in my hands; I felt a sensation like seeing oneself from miles above the earth or like looking at one's reflection in a mirror through the wrong end of a telescope. Realizing that I have nothing left to lose in my actions I let my hands become weapons, my teeth become weapons, every bone and muscle and fiber and ounce of blood become weapons, and I feel prepared for the rest of my life.
In my dreams I crawl across freshly clipped front lawns, past statues and dogs and cars containing your guardians. I enter your houses through the smallest cracks in the bricks that keep you feeling comfortable and safe. I cross your living rooms and go up your staircases and into your bedrooms where you lie sleeping. [. . .] I will wake you up and welcome you to your bad dream.
Powerful stuff, huh? (Or maybe it's just me.) It's a memoir and it's a fluid thing; violence isn't his only topic, but he's articulating a queer rage that I find exciting and moving.

07 July 2007

A Pair of Classics

John Cromwell's Caged from 1950 has finally been released on DVD. It's being released in a boxed set of three DVDs called "Cult Camp Classics 2 - Women in Peril". I've heard others refer to Caged as one of the all-time classic camp movies, as well. But the movie isn't really that campy. I mean it is campy at times, but Caged is really a well-scripted, well-acted awareness picture about women's prisons. The film has obviously been designed to show how (male) society treats women who have done hardly anything wrong and to show all of the maltreatment these women receive behind bars. The film boasts a really wonderful performance by Eleanor Parker (Detective Story, The Sound of Music), who turns from the scared kid who comes to the prison to the jaded no-nonsense criminal who leaves the prison. Caged is an indictment of society at large and a film about social justice. It means serious business. So it can be watched for its camp value (it certainly has its moments) but to do so misses its larger feminist message.

Late last night I couldn't sleep and decided to watch Victor Fleming's 1937 film of Kipling's Captains Courageous. This is another Spencer Tracy movie from the early part of his career (and boasts one of the first film roles of Mickey Rooney). It's about a rich kid coming of age and learning not to be a spoiled brat through his attachment to a fisherman who takes him under his wing for a summer aboard a fishing schooner. I pretty much loved it and—you'll probably never hear me say this again because I've never thought it before, but—Spencer Tracy is kinda hot in this movie. It's really weird. I don't know what came over me. Anyway, the adaptation of the novel is good and the photography is very well done. It all looks very real (an amazing feat for 1937). I would say it's an even better "at sea" movie than Captain Blood. There is a racing sequence at the end of the picture that is riveting. Notice the father-son narrative and you'll know that it is easy to predict I would love this film. I used to be soft on Spencer Tracy, but I think I may be warming to him.

05 July 2007


I live a kind of sheltered life, I guess. I listen to NPR, so I don't ever hear any news coverage that is overtly homophobic. I stay away from movies like I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry or whatever it's called. I read lots of books about queer theory, and I study theatre. There's heterosexism around, but there isn't a lot of outright anti-gay hostility. In fact, there's very little. I've chosen these things, this experience. I choose not to encounter homophobic hatred, and even in Tallahassee, that's somewhat possible.

Today I made the mistake of watching an Ann Coulter video while browsing on YouTube. It's Fox News, so Ann Coulter calling John Edwards a "faggot" was their top story. That, in itself, is laughable, of course. Coulter is a famous comedian, so I suppose when she uses an inflammatory word like that, it is a big story, but I would never have heard about it unless I had run across it on YouTube. The thing is, Coulter defended her use of the word. She said that the word "faggot" has nothing to do with homosexuals. I thought that was a little bizarre. She defends her use of the term by saying that John Edwards isn't gay because he's married and has children and so therefore the word isn't homophobic.

The term "faggot", of course, means homosexual. It's a pejorative term. Homosexuals have been called faggots for a long time (since the second decade of the twentieth century). So Coulter doesn't actually think John Edwards is gay, but she calls him gay, and she means it as an insult. She actually says that that's what she was doing. It's just all so homophobic! It makes me sad. And then I was reading the comments on the video on YouTube and someone named catarojo has posted: "People with morals and decency, who aren't brainwashed by Hollywood, realize how sick these fucking queers are."

Wow. I never expose myself to this kind of shit and I shouldn't have even watched this video. There's a good reason why I avoid people like Coulter and the people who buy her books: I'm scared of these people. They freak me out.

Planet Earth

No movie today. Instead, I watched three episodes of (wait for it...) television.

Everyone has been talking about this show Planet Earth and when I stayed with my parents, my father was totally obsessed with this show. He asked me to watch some of it with him, and I was wowed. So I decided I would ask Netflix to send me the DVDs. (It's all on DVD now, don'cha know?)

Today's episodes were "Caves", "Deserts" and "Ice Worlds". This is amazing stuff, y'all. The footage is brilliant, and I probably said "holy shit" a total of twenty times during these three episodes. It's eyepopping and extraordinary TV.


Lajos Koltai's Evening, which has a ridiculously impressive cast of actresses in it, looked like it was going to be The Hours: Part II. Some of the cast members even stepped directly out of The Hours: Eileen Atkins, Meryl Streep, Claire Danes, Toni Collette. The cast also includes real life mother and daughter Vanessa Redgrave & Natasha Richardson, Glenn Close (!), Hugh Dancy (so cute), Patrick Wilson (so cute), and—impossibly—Meryl Streep's real life daughter Mamie Gummer. (Gummer?!?! Really? She's a capable actress, but that name!) The film also boasts a very nice, if small performance by an actor named Ebon Moss-Bachrach.

Okay, enough talk of the performers. Evening is most definitely not The Hours: Part Two, though this is precisely what the filmmakers seem to have been going for. Instead of the wisdom, philosophy, humanity, beauty and emotion that graced David Hare's screenplay for The Hours, the script for Evening, by Susan Minot, who wrote the novel Evening and Michael Cunningham, who wrote the novel The Hours, clunks along heavy with melodrama and light on philosophy. This problem plagued Cunningham's screenplay of his novel A Home at the End of the World, too. Cunningham's books are incredible, wonderful creations. They are some of my favorite books, and I consider a new Cunningham novel a must-read (his latest novel Specimen Days is lovely), but he seems incapable of translating this to films that he pens himself. David Hare's script for The Hours distilled the novel's plot points and yet preserved Cunningham's insights into his characters. Cunningham as a screenwriter seems fixated only on events. His scripts move from plot point to plot point never taking the time to notice his characters' subtleties. The result is a film (films) that is long on plot and short on any emotional development.

Another very serious problem that Evening has is its score by Jan A.P. Kaczmarek. It's a beautiful, delicate score, not quite as charming as his Oscar-winning score for Finding Neverland but still very pretty. Here again, a comparison with The Hours is appropriate. That film had a score by Philip Glass, and say what you will about him (I happen to completely love him, but he has his detractors) his film scores are insistent, powerful and they drive the action. Films like Notes on a Scandal, The Fog of War, The Illusionist and Kundun all have plots that aren't particularly tension-filled or action-packed, but overlayed with Glass's scores they become thrilling movies, headed toward some kind of impact or blow-up. Think about it. The Hours has very little dramatic tension, but Glass's score keeps the film moving at a rapid pace, connects the stories, and makes the audience always feel like something very important is about to happen. This never happens in Evening. Kaczmarek's score, pretty though it may be, is just decoration.

There are three scenes that really work in Evening, and they are in the last half hour of the film. When Meryl Streep finally appears (it's a cameo, really), she delivers all the insight the film has to share. This is, indeed, a lovely sequence of scenes, but it's all the movie really has to offer and it happens way too near the end, when my patience with Evening had already worn thin.

04 July 2007

War-torn Countries

Kon Ichikawa's 1959 war film Fires on the Plain may be the bleakest film I've ever seen. It's certainly up there with unbelievably depressing fare like Dancer in the Dark. Fires on the Plain (part of my current mini-obsession with cinema from J-pan) is a grim story told in the very last days of World War II. It's set on a Philippine island and follows three Japanese soldiers as they walk from one end of the island to another part of it and try to survive. Well, sort of. It's really just this long, endless march of doom. The thing is, the film is absolutely brilliant. It's magnificently shot and beautifully composed. The acting is wonderful and the script is pretty damn near genius: Kon Ichikawa's wife is the screenwriter, and she pares down the novel so that at least fifty percent of the film proceeds without dialogue. It's great writing. The outlook of this film, though, is relentlessly dour, and though it's never oppressive or boring, it's a hard film to watch (but definitely worth it.) The last Kon Ichikawa movie I saw I moved to my all-time favorites list. Fires on the Plain doesn't have the hope that The Burmese Harp has, so I didn't love this film as much as the last one, but it's undeniably powerful.

I also saw Víctor Erice's The Spirit of the Beehive (El Espíritu de la Colmena), which is a quiet film about a young girl confronting a monster in war-ravaged Franco-era Spain. It's lyrical and beautiful and completely compelling. It's also beautifully shot, with a hexagonal beehive motif running through the film. I loved this film (and I am very grateful to Criterion for putting films like The Spirit of the Beehive and Fires on the Plain out so that I can see them. Watching these Criterion DVDs is like attending film class. It's so awesome.)

03 July 2007


My friend Karen reminded me that I never talked about Venus, the Hanif Kureishi film from last year which was directed by Roger Michell and starred Peter O'Toole. In fact, it's the one film I've seen since January 2006 that I haven't talked about on this blog. Sorry for the meta-blogging, but I thought I would include the discussion of the film I had with Karen here:
It was so exactly what I expected from Hanif Kureishi, which means I liked its audacity and disliked its grotesquerie. His films always have this quality. They are so seedy and about such unlikeable people, and yet there is a humanity. And Kureishi actually likes his characters... a lot, unlike a scribe like, say (and I know I always berate him, but here I go again) Neil LaBute. As for Peter O'Toole. I don't get the appeal. I get why everyone likes him in Lawrence of Arabia and Becket and The Lion in Winter. I love him in those movies. But the rest of his oeuvre: it's all overhyped if you ask me.
I'm probably being unkind to O'Toole. It's just that films like My Favorite Year and The Stunt Man and The Ruling Class—each of which has seen O'Toole so highly-praised for his acting ability—all left a sour taste in my mouth, as though his acting were a kind of comment on acting or comment on his own persona as a star. Zzzzz. That said, I rather liked him in Venus and in Ratatouille (go see it!). And, truth be told, I liked Venus a lot better than I liked The Mother, the last Kureishi film that Roger Michell directed.

Sorry this post is about five months late. Oops.

Boys Town

Norman Taurog's Boys Town is no cinematic masterpiece. It's not brilliantly shot or perfectly scripted or superbly acted or anything like that. What it is is a story about an idealistic priest (Spencer Tracy) who decides to make a home for boys in Omaha, Nebraska. He sees the problem of homeless, delinquent boys as something that he can change in his city. So he mortgages everything he can think of and rents a house and makes a home for fifty boys. Then he begins to dream, and builds an entire city for boys: with a way for each of them to work and serve the community and vote. Father Flanagan's motto is "there is no such thing as a truly bad boy." Then Mickey Rooney enters the picture as a boy who refuses to be reformed. Trouble ensues.

The film is directed by Norman Taurog, the director who made Skippy and who became famous in the 1930s as a child's director. He made several films about children and he had a way with directing them to excellent performances. As I said, Boys Town is no masterpiece, but it's about fatherless boys finding a home and a paternal figure who takes care of them and believes in them and fights for them. So, if you know me very well, you know that I cried at least a half a dozen times and that I totally loved this sentimental little film from 1938.

I know, I know. I'm a mess. Orphans, coming of age stories, father-son sagas. I'm a sucker for this shit.

02 July 2007

Best Animated Feature 2007

I hate when it's been a long time since I blogged about movies, because then I have a backlog of films to talk about and I have to post about four movies at once. The real reason I have to do this is because I've been watching (as you might :-) have noticed) far more movies than is normal for me. This probably a) because I'm kind of bored with the Robert McRuer book I'm reading and b) because I'm feeling very, very lazy of late.

I also have not been watching any 2007 movies lately. They just haven't been interesting me for some reason since I got back to Florida. But I have remedied that, and two of the movies below are actually from this year and have appeared on the 2007 list to your right:

First off, the movie that is sure to win Best Animated Feature at the Oscars next February: Brad Bird's Ratatouille. It's a brilliant piece of animation, with some wonderfully memorable characters. It's also absolutely hilarious, and the laughs are all gotten through clever, well-thought-out jokes. There are no easy gags here. (The character that had me laughing the hardest was the Peter O'Toole-voiced food critic Anton Ego.) And the film is definitely a Brad Bird movie, by which I mean, that Ratatouille is more of an action movie than anything else. It's also a movie about food, and some of the food fixed in the film is downright brilliantly conceived. There is a reason this little rodent chef becomes the toast of Paris. He really knows what he's doing. Pixar, too, has done it again. You're going to love this movie.

Rachid Bouchareb's Days of Glory (Indigènes) is a war movie similar, in a lot of ways, to other war movies of the late 1990s, especially Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan. The film follows four Algerian soldiers who have been recruited into the French army in World War II. The soldiers, despite hard work and loyalty to the French, are consistently passed over for promotions and never given leave, while their white compatriots are both promoted, and frequently allowed to visit their homes. There are no boats take them back to Algeria, one white colonel argues, but he is then reminded that "there were boats to bring them here." I have to confess that I got a little worried while I was watching this film. I was afraid it was going to be a rags-to-riches story like USAmerican filmmakers are known for where the Algerians fight hard and some of them die, but they prove their loyalty to France in the end and everyone in France recognizes what a mistake they've been making all along, even though it's too late to reward most of the Algerians for their service because so many are dead. But the ones that are still alive are rewarded and celebrated and take their place beside the white people who have treated them with contempt for so long. The movie didn't go in this direction, thankfully. And the parallel scenes to Saving Private Ryan serve to point up this difference in a way that is truly ingenious (the end of the film is the best part). Instead of a redemptive end to the film, the Algerian soldier we follow returns home to his poorly furnished flat and sits on his bed alone. And then we find out in a title card that the French government is still refusing to pay these Algerian soldiers their pensions after all these years. It's a powerful message after all, even though the film tends toward the conventional.

Michelangelo Antonioni's The Passenger is brilliant. This film is from 1975 and it stars Jack Nicholson and Maria Schneider (she of Last Tango in Paris fame). It's a superbly photographed mystery that follows Jack through Africa to Germany and finally to Spain, where the last hour or so of the film is spent, soaking in the Spanish scenery. It's a movie about identity and fleeing the lives that we build for ourselves that trap us. The Passenger has long been forgotten, but was released again in theatres last year and has now made an appearance on DVD. You should definitely check it out. The last nine or so minutes of the film is a single (virtuosic) shot that is both shocking, confusing and compelling. I loved this movie.

Umberto D. is a classic Vittorio de Sica movie, from about the same time as Shoeshine and The Bicycle Thief. It is almost as well known as those two movies, but it is significantly different as well in some interesting ways. Umberto D. follows a depressed old man, who is contemplating suicide, and it seems to be a sad movie about a disaffected character in the way his earlier movies were. But Umberto D. is really a kind of comedy, or, at the least, it has a happy ending. The old man in the film is, finally, kind of ridiculous and funny, at least that's how I see him. He is a sad man, or thinks he is a sad man, but all of his sadness is a kind of silliness, really, and the film ends upbeat, with a celebration of the man's relationship to his little dog, Flike. You know how I feel about the elderly, so I couldn't totally sympathize with this old codger, but I kind of think De Sica had that in mind.

01 July 2007

Theatre Diary from the Best Coast

I stole this "best coast" thing from Danny. I'm kinda liking it. Especially because it covers all of the places I stayed while I was in California/Nevada. Anyway, I thought I would talk about the theatre I saw while I was in Los Angeles and Las Vegas. I saw a show tonight called The Waiting Place. It was a new play by an FSU student named Sarah Mattern and I liked it fairly well. A little too... neat for my tastes, but pretty good.

In Los Angeles, my favorite of the theatre pieces I saw was Tracy Lett's Bug. (Yes, the same as the movie. I'm not sure how it works on celluloid, but it's gangbusters on stage.) It was put on by Lost Angels and it was fucking superb. No lie. The acting is excellent. Peter (Andrew Elvis Miller) is a kind of drifter and he shacks up with Agnes (Amy Landecker, who was in the original off-Broadway production of the show). Then they start finding bugs in the Oklahoma City motel room where they live. The dialogue is fresh and funny and the staging of the show is nothing short of brilliant. The bugs are in their skin, see? So Agnes and Peter need to get the bugs out of their skin. You do the math. So Agnes and Peter cut at their own bodies in an effort to get those bugs out. There is also about 30 minutes of nudity. The stuff that goes on on this stage is mind-boggling, and it's done so well that it's all totally believable. And the acting is so good that I believed every minute of this show. Miller and Landecker (who should both be nominated for Ovation Awards) are supported by Andrew Hawkes and Laura Niemi who are also absolutely excellent. (Hawkes's might actually be my favorite performance in the show.) Bug is also skillfully directed. The director's name is Scott Cummins and he should be getting tons of work. This is a really great show. Bug has been extended until July 8th, so if you can still see it, you definitely should go. Seriously. Don't miss this show if you can see it.

After Bug, I saw Federico Moreno Torroba's zarzuela Luisa Fernanda. which I guess I already talked about here and Los Angeles Women's Shakespeare's production of As You Like It. Sigh. I hate that play. As usual, of course, I find Lisa Wolpe to not be a very inspired director. And did I mention what a campy actor she is? But I've already discussed it in detail here so I don't need to go into it all again.

And I saw Tony-winner Jersey Boys, which isn't really a musical so much as it is a revue of the Four Seasons' music done by a really good cover band.

I was in Las Vegas for three nights, though, and I saw three shows. Thanks to Christina, Isaac and Ryan who got me (and in some cases a whole bunch of my friends) into all three shows absolutely for free.

Mystère (at Treasure Island) is classic Cirque du Soleil: lots of acrobatics, skillful clowning, amazing acts and a sort of nineties sensibility. I totally loved this show and was wowed by all of the acts. It's fantastic.
(at the MGM Grand) is more of a martial arts thing. I liked it, but it's not so much a display of acrobatic prowess as it is a show about the set. The theatre itself took my breath away. There are all of these catwalks extending into the house. They're lit up and absolutely beautiful. As you sit in your seat waiting for the show to start, performers begin to swing and repel from the catwalks over the audience. And then there's this platform that is the stage and it raises and lowers and rotates into a completely vertical position. And all without making sound. It's extraordinary. And clearly cost a fortune.
My favorite show, though, was Zumanity (at NY NY). It's about sex and sexuality. It has lots of cool acrobatics, all of which have to do with sexuality. And it's so queer as well. The body types are not all typical and the couplings are not all heteronormative. I'm seeing it again the next time I'm in Vegas without question. Maybe twice. I loved this show. And I am hoping to be able to write about it. It's so interesting and cool. And filled with nudity. (And you all know how I feel about nudity.)